Since my first visit in 2004, I have appreciated everything about French food. It is delicious. There are lots of breads and cheeses and chocolates, and other delicious things that I love. There is a reason that we as Americans think of French food as "fancy". Because it is fancy - at least fancier than American food. I think part of it is that the French still appreciate the ritual of the meal. It is very rare occurrence that a meal lasts less than an hour (not counting food on the go, which is a different sort of beast). Meals come in well timed courses, meant to be enjoyed.
For most of the last week, Mike and I have been eating in. As I mentioned a couple of posts back, we are shopping in the grocery store and the local market street to get the things we need. There is something very appealing to me about going from shop to shop to gather the ingredients for a delicious meal: meat from the butcher, bread from the baker, cheese from the dairy... and so on. It goes against my American sensibilities - I want to go to that one-stop shop and get a great price on everything all at once... or at least a decent price. Here, I actually SAVE money by scavenging my dinner from a series of shops. Meat is especially expensive in the grocery store, when compared to the butcher. Chicken breast, for example, costs almost $10 per pound (17E/kilo) in the supermarket. Tonight, I saw it for 7E/k (about $4.50 per pound) at the butcher. Granted, even that is more than I really want to pay, but at least it is affordable.
My favorite, without question, is the bakery. Not only does the French government regulate the price of a baguette (the best $1 per day I spend) because it is such a central part of the French culture and diet, but they have annual competitions to see who is the best baker. This is serious stuff; the winner gets to hang a sign in his/her window saying they are the premier baker in Paris. And everyone takes their baking seriously - they want to be the winner, so they make the most delicious stuff they can. Crusty loaves of bread, fluffy soft croissants, pastries that tempt me every time I walk past them... It is all delicious. Even the most basic baguette is amazing (especially when smeared with soft cheese or jam). These same baguettes become sandwiches for lunch. Sliced bread isn't particularly popular. You can buy it, but few people do. I've also tried a selection of other breads and pastries. So far, I think my favorite is pain Suisse. It used to be pain chocolat - a croissant with some chocolate shoved inside. But the Pain Suisse is like pain chocolat on steroids... LOTS of chocolate and this sugary custard to hold it together. Everything about it is delicious.